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Monday, August 21, 2017

On Marriage and Knowing Each Other

A couple's AT-AT cosplay. Image source.
So I'm married now. And I thought married people totally know each other- but we don't. And I thought being married would mean we're perfect Christians who always sacrifice to serve each other- but we're not.

Purity culture always made a big deal about sex being the ultimate way to know someone and be vulnerable with them and give yourself to them. That was why they said you're only allowed to have sex when you're married- because if you had sex with some ex in the past, then that ex knew you in the deep way that only your spouse was supposed to know you.

And I've heard Christians talk about how if you have sex with someone and then break up with them, it's the most devastating thing ever. I specifically remember one Christian speaker who said "when someone knows every curve of your body, and then they reject you..." But that's ridiculous. As close and intimate as sex is, it's mostly about knowing someone's body. Really knowing a person is so much more than that. By having sex, you know someone in a unique way that maybe nobody else (or very few people) have known them, but that doesn't mean you know what's really important about them. It doesn't mean you know them better than their friends or family.

I can understand why many people would only choose to be known in a sexual way by someone whom they're also very close with in other ways. (That's what I choose too, being asexual and all.) But that doesn't mean having sex is somehow equivalent to being truly known, such that a breakup after having sex is by definition more painful than if you didn't have sex.

(Also I have heard pastors say "sex is the highest form of communication", which, like, what does that even mean? As an asexual, umm, no.)

Anyway my point is, coming from a purity culture background, I basically understood the phrases "you're married", "you're having sex with them", and "you know them fully" to be equivalent. But now I'm married to Hendrix and I don't know everything about him. And how could I? Even though we're married, we'll always be 2 different people, with our own independent minds.

Back when I was in purity culture and dreaming about "my future husband", I imagined that he would read my journals. Because I would be totally okay with him knowing everything, no secrets. And now I don't have a journal anymore; I have a blog, but Hendrix doesn't read my blog. It's all in English, and mostly about a particular subculture of American Christianity that he doesn't have any experience with at all. (Yes, he can read English, but he doesn't really want to spend so much of his spare time reading such a huge amount of text that's not his first language.) But I talk to him about my blog all the time. If I have feelings about something I'm writing about, I tell him and he listens. And that works. I can just tell him the things that I want him to know. He doesn't have to read the whole entire thing.

Here's another example: I've read articles where someone was writing about some childhood trauma she had experienced, and she mentioned in her article about telling her husband about it, because she had never told him before- and I was so confused. Because aren't married people supposed to totally know each other? How could the husband not already know?

But with Hendrix and I, yeah of course there are tons of things that have happened to us in the past that we haven't told each other about. Not because they're secrets, but because we just never happened to mention them to each other. Maybe at some point I'll have a bunch of feelings about something that happened to me a long time ago, and then I'll tell Hendrix, because he is so sweet and caring and I like to tell him how I feel. But otherwise, yeah sure there could be things I've never told him about, just because I don't really think about them.

We know everything about each other's daily habits. I know what kind of food he likes, what kind of clothes he wears, his favorite music and movies and TV shows and websites. All that stuff about each other's day-to-day lives, we know fully. He can often predict what I'm going to say, which is kind of annoying and kind of hilarious.

He doesn't really know what I do at my job though. I'm an engineer, he's not. I tell him about what I do at work, but he doesn't really understand it.

And actually, there are a lot of areas where my husband doesn't have the necessary background experience to really totally understand me. And that's why I need ex-evangelical friends. I need American friends. I need my family. I need math nerd friends. I need friends who make fan theories about Disney princesses. I need friends who know the appropriate things to yell at the TV while watching football. And it's a good thing that I have friends who can understand those parts of me in a way my husband can't. It's not like some kind of competition where someone is threatening my husband because they understand some particular aspect of me better than he does.

Also, purity culture led me to believe that being married would mean I'm a perfect Christian. How many times have I heard people questioning why God hasn't set them up with their designated future spouse yet, and the answer given by good church people is "God wants you to work on your own character right now. Don't try to find the right person- try to BECOME the right person."

Or that absurd advice about two people both following God so hard and that's how they end up getting together. Here are some completely awful images I've seen promoting this crap:

Image text: "A woman's heart should be so lost in God that a man needs to seek him in order to find her." Image source.
An equilateral triangle with God at the top corner and a boyfriend and girlfriend at the bottom corners. There are arrows that indicate when the boyfriend and girlfriend are moving towards each other on the bottom edge of the triangle, that's the "wrong focus" and when they are both moving up the sides towards God, that's the "right focus". Image source.
This triangle thing is telling us that when both partners are working on moving closer to God, they actually become closer to each other too. Blahhh.

Back when I was on fire for Jesus, I actually hated this kind of stuff, because it presents God as a means to an end. People would ALWAYS talk about these memes in the context of "you are sad that you are single now, but here is what you should work on in order to get God to bring your future husband to you." I always felt like they were saying I need to pretend I only care about God and don't care about getting a boyfriend, in order to fool God into giving me one.

All this advice about "don't focus on finding the right person, focus on being the right person" or "God wants to work on you more first before you meet your future spouse" implies that people who are married have already achieved perfect-Christian status. Like marriage is some kind of reward God gives you when you become a good enough Christian. Ugh. Gross. (And a lot of single people have written about how church often treats single people really badly.)

People don't get married by becoming perfect Christians. The only thing you need in order to get married is a person who wants to marry you (in some places there are restrictions on gender too) and money for a wedding. That's it. It has nothing to do with being "godly." Yes, you can make a case that it's not a good idea to just find someone who's willing to marry you- instead you should spend enough time to get to know them and make sure you're compatible- but some people do get married "too young" or "for the wrong reasons" and God doesn't stop it.

Also I've heard pastors talk about how a husband and wife love each other totally and always serve each other. I remember one Christian speaker who talked about how sometimes in the night, when she wanted a glass of water, she would ask her husband to get up and get one for her, and he has to do it because he is required to love his wife sacrificially. (She added that she probably shouldn't do that to him too much, it's kind of taking advantage of him.) Basically that's what I thought it would be like being married- but Hendrix and I aren't like that at all. Yes, we do a lot of little nice things for each other, but we don't do EVERYTHING, ALL the time. He would probably say "why can't you get your own water?"

(On a related note, I can tell you that right now our sink is full of dishes that have been accumulating for several days, and neither of us has decided to be "self-sacrificing" and "serve" by washing them. Probably when there are no more clean cups, one of us will wash them.)

We're basically the same people we were before we got married. We love each other and do a lot of nice, loving things for each other, but it's not like I'm spending all my spare time asking myself "how can I love and serve him more?" He's fine, he can take care of himself.

(Yeah maybe "good Christians" could argue that the reason Hendrix and I aren't "perfect Christians" even though we're married is we didn't follow the "rules" and do it "God's way." Hendrix isn't even a Christian. So, you can believe that explanation if you want.)

So we don't fully know each other, and we're not in some kind of "sacrificial love" utopia. Now someone might say "well you've only been married for a month, of course you're not there yet, you have no idea what marriage is really like." And yes, that's probably true. But my point is, purity culture didn't teach that this is something that you gradually get to after years and years of being together. They said knowing each other can be accomplished by just having sex one time- they didn't say it in those words exactly, but that's the rationale behind "if you had sex with some ex when you were a teenager, it threatens the entire future of your marriage." (Which is EXPLICITLY TAUGHT by purity culture.) And they taught that marriage is the reward after you become a good enough Christian- which means that at the start of your marriage, you'll already be at that perfect-Christian level.

But it's not like that, and OF COURSE it's not like that. A wedding isn't some kind of magical thing that completely changes who you are. It's a big deal, yes, but not like how they described it in church.

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